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Life Story / Obituary
Evelyn D. Lee was a successful woman in every way. She managed an enterprising business, raised wonderful children and made countless friends. Her impact was deep and wide as she personalized her interaction with customers and mentored young employees. Her adventurous nature took her to amazing places that inspired her children and prioritized her home life. She kept material things simple but spent her time lavishly on family and friends. Her own frugality made it possible for her to be generous to those in need. Evelyn embraced discovery and a world that was equally open to her energy and warmth.
Evelyn’s story began March 7, 1927 in Toledo, Ohio at a time when America was moving ahead in industry and transportation. Charles Lindbergh made his solo flight across the ocean and Henry Ford began producing automobiles along an assembly line. The world of adventure and progress welcomed one of its own when Evelyn was born to Elmer and Sophia (Bojarski) Bock.
The daughter of a brick layer, foreman and Mason, Evelyn grew up responsible and curious. She was a good sister to Betty, Shirley, Jackie and Jim and a pet-lover of a Scottish terrier and a crow that habitually pulled clothes pins off the clothes line. She took the initiative to get a job working the soda fountain at her neighborhood drug store and joined the Rainbow Girls (young girls for Masons). Growing up in that same neighborhood was the person who would become her husband.
Having moved to Kalamazoo, Michigan when she was young, Evelyn attended Central High School and graduated in 1945. Because she had developed asthma over the years, she was glad to move to a different climate for a time. She headed west to stay with some family friends and landed a job in a real estate office in Arizona. After a year, she returned to Kalamazoo and went to work for Bell Telephone, where she trained and supervised operators. Evelyn had the distinction of hiring an operator who was the first black to hold that position.
Already established in a career by her mid-20s, Evelyn was not impressed with the flashy young man she met through a friend. Bill Lee was her friend’s date when they doubled, and Evelyn didn’t like that he ran with a fast crowd. Yet Bill took an interest in Evelyn and continued to ask her for a date, even when she kept brushing him off. Finally, Evelyn relented and their two-year dating relationship grew into love and commitment. They married on February 27, 1954 at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church. They began their family later that year when Skip was born, and they also opened a new business, Lee’s Sporting Goods shop.
The family grew to include Carrie, Jeffrey, Richard and Chris, and when the children were young, Evelyn stayed home to care for them. She helped part time at the sporting goods store, but in 1967 she went to full time hours. The truth is she worked more than full time, pouring her energy into the business. When the children would call her at work with their problems, she often had to cut off the conversation with words such as, "I have an important sock order to place." At the same time, Evelyn and Bill “parented” many young employees. She became like a second mom to them, and each one felt close to her. From the business and the Little League teams that Bill and Evelyn sponsored, there were always lots of extra kids around the house. Through the business and their personal interest, Evelyn and Bill were effective mentors, and years later they would receive letters from former employees who told how they had been helped by the two of them.
Evelyn’s children appreciated the uniqueness of their mother. She was ahead of her time in the 60s, not fussing over meals nor making a big deal out of the holidays. Paper plates were just fine, and the microwave oven was a “must have” when it first came out, because Evelyn couldn’t be bothered to spend precious time cooking. She would much rather be with the family at the beach, camping, snow-skiing or rock hunting. As a rock hound, Evelyn was fascinated with quarries, and she took her kids everywhere to find rocks and teach them everything she knew. Many rocks found their way into Evelyn’s Japanese’s garden—a unique design for an equally unique and passionate woman.
When she wasn’t focused on the store (which was almost never), Evelyn took some time for herself, relaxing on trips with Bill or listening to the music of Glenn Miller and Barbara Streisand. But even on her down-time, she couldn’t help but think “business.” When she saw items at business trade shows, she bought them for herself (lovely jewelry) but also found goods that she knew she could sell to certain individuals. Because she had always enjoyed fashion, Evelyn made sure the store displayed its merchandise with eye-appeal.
“Never stop learning” was a lifelong motto of Evelyn’s. She was an early adopter of computers, knowing they could revolutionize business operations. She used them to research the industry and to learn about emerging trends in business practices. Not many women were sporting goods store owners back-in-the-day that Evelyn first started, but over the years she proved worthy of the recognition she received from fellow business organizations. When Bill retired, she became even more involved and functioned as the backbone of the business. In her own retirement, Evelyn continued to bring her expertise to the board of the Nature Center in which she served as a member into her 80s.
In her mid-80s, Evelyn moved to Friendship Village and made her home there among new friends. She will be missed and remembered as a beloved wife, mother, grandmother, sister, aunt and friend to many.
Evelyn D. Lee, age 89 of Kalamazoo, Michigan, died July 16, 2016 at Friendship Village in Kalamazoo. Evelyn was preceded in death by her 3 sisters: Betty Briedenbaugh, Shirley Zinkus, and Jackie Bock. Her 5 surviving children are: William Jr. “Skip” Lee, Carrie Lee Hays, Jeffery Lee (Honore Clark), Richard Lee, and Christopher (Beth) Lee; 13 grandchildren: Tony, Kristy, Zachary, Kaitlin, Heather, Nicholas, William, Jackson, Hunter, Kourvoisier, Heather, Melissa, and Jennifer, as well as several great-grandchildren. Evelyn is also survived by her brother Jim (Mary) Bock, family-friend Marcy Clark, and many nieces and nephews. Cremation will take place and a memorial service will be held Thursday, July 21st, 2016 at 4 pm at Life Story Funeral homes, Betzler-Kalamazoo; 6080 Stadium Drive (269-375-2900) followed by a reception in the Life Story Center. Please visit Evelyn’s personal web page at www.lifestorynet.com, where you can archive a favorite memory or photo of her and sign her online guestbook before coming to the funeral home. Memorial contributions may be made to Hospice Care of Southwest Michigan.